May 23, 2008

Four dollars

Yeah, yeah, $4 a gallon doesn't seem much to you Brits and other Europeans. But over here it's symbolic. (Side note: Just beyond that sign is where I witnessed a pretty bad non-injury crash yesterday. Saw it coming long before the two drivers did.)

The $4 a gallon threshold here should be noted as an historic event, however. I believe it is the moment that the rest of the American population finally will come out of their state of denial and realize that holy shit, we'd better find an alternative to gasoline, and pronto.

It was not so long ago that "experts" said things like this:
But gasoline is unlikely to top $3 per gallon absent an unexpected supply hit, such as a hurricane disrupting operations at key Gulf Coast refineries. [Houston Chronicle, September 13, 2007]
I laugh when I hear people (especially in the news) say, "... and it may not go down again."

Well, DUH.

The $4 a gallon threshold is a harbinger of ever-spiraling gasoline prices here. It is simply one more indicator that we as a nation can no longer consider ourselves better than everyone else. Our arrogance has lasted too long and turned into hubris, and it's time to acknowledge that as long as we are reliant on foreign oil for our energy, we are not truly independent. (In fact, we can never truly be independent, ever again, and the quicker we realize that our neighborhood now knows no boundaries, the better shot we have of staying in a world leadership role.)

$4 a gallon was inconceivable to all those people who proudly bought Hummers just three years ago. I laugh at the guy who wrote a local op-ed saying he was proud to drive his Hummer and emit carbons into the air as it demonstrated his invincible control over nature. Take >that<, smackhead. But I feel awful for the people truly hit hard by $4 a gallon gas. I don't care about the families with their big SUVs, oh boo hoo it costs sooo much to get Billy to ballet and Susie to rugby now. No, I feel for the people who are unable to make a living any more. The pool service people. The yard service people, including the legions of immigrants in this state who may or may not be documented. Taxi drivers, who often have to take fuel costs out of their receipts. I feel bad for the people who could not afford houses close in to our cities and so moved out to the exurbs in the late 90s and early 2000s. They already struggled, and now their mortgage rates have skyrocketed at the same time their commute has doubled in price. They were only trying to have a better home and school for their kids, and now they're unable to maintain what they could afford just three years ago. I know everyone will tell me to "get over it," but imagine where we'd be if Gore had been elected in 2000. Sure, 9/11 would have happened anyway. Gore would have smacked down the Taliban and bent all the US military might into finding bin Laden. We would not have spent a trillion dollars in Iraq. We would have had oodles of national guardsmen on hand to help rescue and rebuild the Gulf Coast. We would have poured a huge amount of the nation's vast intellectual and creative resources into alternative fuel and green technologies, because that was Gore's biggest passion. Oh, wait. Gore was elected in 2000. He just wasn't allowed to become President.

$4 a gallon represents record profits for oil companies like Shell and Chevron. $4 a gallon represents an imminent threat to our Alaskan wilderness and California coastlines. $4 a gallon points to higher prices on staple foods. $4 a gallon points to more families unable to make ends meet.

It may seem cheap to much of the world, but look at it in the context of having nearly doubled in a two year period. When our society is based on the automobile, that's a huge, and mostly hidden, part of many families' budgets.


JaneyV said...

Oh it's hellishly expensive over here. Last time I filled up I put 48.5L in my 50L tank and it cost me £53 which I worked out is about $100 so I think that means we're paying roughly twice as much over here. Most of it's on tax.
I guess if it takes all the unnecessary cars off the roads and makes them safer for bike riding that'll be a good thing but I'm not sure that people are ready to give up their cars so easily.

I picked a good time to move to the country and be totally dependant on mine didn't I?

PJD said...

Oh, Jane, I know it's far more expensive in Europe. For me, the $4 a gallon threshold is symbolic. It was not long ago that "experts" here were saying gas was highly unlikely even to reach $3 a gallon.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...



Going for gas now is actually a phsyically sickening acitivity these days.

PJD said...

Just so everyone knows, Jane and Ello both commented on the photo alone, before I added the text of the post.

JaneyV said...

Sorry for jumping the gun there! But if I may... I'm standing up and giving you an ovation. WOOT! WOOT! I second EVERYTHING you just said. And it's not just the US - Tony Blair jumped straight into bed with Dubya and dragged the UK in too.
November 6th 1999 was my 33rd birthday. I stayed up way into the night to get the result of the Presidential Election and I slept soundly that night because I was sure Gore was in. What a different world it would've been indeed.

Anonymous said...

Peter, I understand the hostility against SUVs in San Francisco (truly ridiculous) but I own an SUV because it keeps me on the road in teh winter. I have to have it and it's saved my life, I do believe. Lots of folks need to have 4x4s in order to drive in truly foul weather. We also do not have any alternative means of transportation such as busses, trains, etc. I carpool, but that only goes so far.

The really ironic thing is that many of the cars out there get worse gas mileage than my SUV, which gets 25!

It's the mileage and all the must-drive-my-kids-effing-everywhere syndrome that burns gas.

But you are right; our nation is arrogant and is getting the metaphorical boot up our collective asses.


PJD said...

WW, excellent points. 25 MPG SUV? What brand do you have? That's awesome. It might even be better than our Subaru Outback, which I think is 23. But it's a partial zero emissions vehicle (PZEV), so I don't feel quite so guilty.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I drive a Toyota 4Runner. From 1994. It gets somewhere between 16 and 18 MPG. We have used it when 4x4 was necessary and originally got it to tow a sailboat which we no longer have. Mostly I drive it to the train station and soccer games, roughly 25 miles a week.

What I rail against is the purchase of a Tahoe or Suburban for the family with two (or even three) kids that never leaves the burbs. Mostly they eschew minivans or wagons simply because of the "mom" image factor.

Anonymous said...

That's exactly who I thought you were referring to, but honestly, I get so tired of being slammed for an SUV I need. Sorry for ranting at you. Instead, I've ranted on my own blog on the topic. Which I'll probably regret. WW

PJD said...

Other friends: WW's rant is an excellent read and can be found here.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Peter, email me if you want to know about my car. ;) writtenwyrdd at earthlink dot net. I was going to email you, but you don't have one posted.

Robin S. said...


Today I filled my car up - it cost me $54.83 (Northern Virginia- Metro DC area).

Just last summer I enjoye dmaking fun of British 'petrol' prices, saying crap like "How the hell do they afford t o drive anywhere?" Filling up our van when we took the van back to the rental place in London en route to Heathrow invariably cost us $85-$90 American.

Well, we're closing in, aren't we?

Britain in big with brains and history and (inmy estimation) stature on the world stage, but SMALL geographically speaking. They don't live and die by their automotive transport. We kinda do.

I'm unhappy. And, frankly and not at all bitchily, I can afford this. How about the so-many that really can't? This is freaky time stuff.

Robin S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

BRAVA! Bravissimi! Great post! I think there are a million sides to the debate, and you covered the main ones in a compassionate, but challenging, way.

And, yeah, I drive a big ol' Honda Odyssey, so we've had to rethink our budget to include the new gas costs, too.

Unknown said...

I understand some people need an SUV, but falling new SUV sales and rising used SUV sales point towards a lot of people realizing they didn't really need one. That's who Pete was railing against. There was an article on SFGate a while back about some guy trying to sell his SUV and get a minivan. He said he'd bought the SUV for his daughter's his daughter less safe now, and/or is her safety worth less to him now? Hmm...

Four dollars a gallon is definitely symbolic. I don't drive much, and when I do it's usually in our 2002 Prius (45-50MPG, SULEV, 11 gallon tank), so the total isn't as shocking as for many people, but when I started doing the math about how much say a 50 mile round trip costs ($4.00+ for gas plus wear-and-tear) vs. the same trip on BART ($7.70) and it's no wonder ridership goes up when gas prices do. What's even more jarring is the $5.00+ a gallon for diesel at a lot of stations.

I just wish public transit was as good here as it is many places in Europe :-(

Sarah Laurenson said...

Nice rant. And thanks for the link to WW's. Both make very good points.

I live in L.A. - land of Hummers and SUVs in extreme conspicuous consumption. No snow, hardly any rain, no real wilderness to drive through, no need for humongous gas guzzlers.

Are they the total problem? Nope. Symptom for sure. Lots of status BS going on out here. And now they're paying through the nose to gas up those behemoths. Cry me an effing river.

So kudos to you who need the 4x4s to be able to live your life. And condolences to those who can't afford to live in these times. One can only hope that things will turn around after the next election. But it's going to take time.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Oh, and I drive a Prius. Paying as much for my gas now as I did when I had the Saturn sedan getting half the mileage. But I have the monthly car note that I didn't have before. Bought mine used. Like it a lot. (Last fill up - $4.05/gallon)

TC said...

In 1998, gas was under a dollar. 10 years later, it's over $4. That's a huge increase in just 10 years. I mean, other prices have gone up, but that's unbelievable.

One thing I think Europeans should remember (and if someone already talked about this, sorry, I didn't read the comments) is that they are much better equiped to not be reliant on automobiles. Now, I'm not saying that's not our own fault, but there are some things are out of our control.

In most middle to large size cities in the US (not counting New York, LA, etc.), public transportation is just not what it is in Europe. I know, I've lived in Europe: it's amazing there. Here, not so much. If I were to take public transportation to work from where I live, it would take me over an hour to get there as opposed to my normal 15 minute commute. You have to consider your time to be worth something too... and mine ends up being worth a lot more than a gallon of gas costs, even at $4 a gallon.

Plus, walking is safer in Europe in cities. I've considered ditching my car and walking to and from work here (I live 3.5 miles away), but there aren't sidewalks that go everywhere and I would spend a lot of that time walking without sidewalks in very heavy traffic zones. Thus, I get out the car daily.

If public transportation was better here, I would definitely use it. And part of the reason (in my opinion) that it is so good in Europe is that they have had higher priced gasoline for so long. Perhaps it's time our cities started learning a few things from them.

WriterKat said...

It is horrible, and like you, I'm so frustrated that things could have been different if Gore had been in office. I just pray that a democrat makes it in so we can start to work on these things, but as people have said, it's going to take time. Bush didn't want to get it. He didn't need to get it.

In the end, it's not really about SUV's - they are going to go away to what is necessary. We have one and find many uses for it, it is difficult to drive a truck load of kids or Costco purchases without a family car, so that's why so many of us have bought them. But I don't need the 4WD or whatever the truck part is.

The problem for me is in good conscience, I want a more eco-friendly car, but I haven't had car payments in years. With all the prices and costs of living, I can't add another thing. So eventually I will, until then, we drive the SUV around town and my smaller car to work.

I'm in LA too - I was researching how to drive the Metro via bus or train to work. Turns out a 20 minute commute would land me over 2 hours and not even get to my final destination. I would have to find a ride to get me over another 2 miles unless I walked that. Los Angeles has to think of a better system if we are to change the traffic problem here.

Sarah Laurenson said...

My 20 minute commute would take 90 minutes with a long walk on each end. L.A. has crappy public transit.

Portland, OR, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. have impressive public transit systems. N.Y. city - perhaps - if you hold your nose. Those subways stick.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Um, stink!

Whirlochre said...

There are still too many people who haven't got it yet that pumping oil from the earth differs from leeching blood in one important respect, ie that we haven't the time to wait for stocks to replenish themselves.

It's the equivalent of $2.27 a litre in the UK — $9 a gallon if my conversion is right. That's a lot to pay for generating an invisible cloud of gridlocked road rage.